Leesburg Town Council adopts lower tax rate, keeps Main Street Program in flux
At this rate, the average weighted residential tax bill will be about $656, or an increase of about $7. This is less than half the increase that taxpayers would have seen if council had accepted a steady tax rate of 18.6 percent: The average 2018 bill would have risen by about $15.
In addition, the much-debated Main Street program, a $110,000 effort to market and revitalize Leesburg’s downtown, is being put on hold as council created a committee to study the economic development portion of the town plan and report town-wide recommendations by October. The town will spend $25,000 on this group and earmark an additional $100,000 for suggested improvements, which could include the Main Street program.
Committee members will include elected officials, business owners and citizens.
“I do think it’s important to make a financial commitment,” Councilman Ron Campbell said of his compromise plan. “There’s nobody that I have talked to that’s said there’s not a problem. Or that there’s not an opportunity.”
While the majority of council and many Leesburg residents seemed suspicious of spending tax dollars to start Main Street, 14 Leesburg and Loudoun residents came out to speak in favor of the program, which had been cut during the March 27 markup session.
Representatives from local governments, urban planners and business owners agreed that government needed to form a partnership with downtown businesses for any improvements to move forward.
“We’ve had great success over the past year, but that success wasn’t easy. It wasn’t based on foot traffic alone,” 27 South Furniture owner Nick McCarter said. “The tools and the resources that [Main Street] provides will help us be successful.”
Campbell’s proposed compromise squeaked by 4-3, with Mayor Kelly Burk, Councilman Hugh Forsythe and Councilman Fernando Martinez joining him to vote in favor.
“I’m excited, because I think that when this commission is done, they will come back and say Main Street is the right program,” Burk said.
With these negotiations done, the tax rate stood at 18.65 percent—0.05 percent above the rate proposed by Town Manager Kaj Dentler.
Councilman Thomas Dunn proposed a tax rate of 18.1 percent, saying that the budget has too much waste. Some of the major cuts he proposed were eliminating any form of the Main Street program and not hiring three employees for the public works maintenance crew. Only Dunn and Councilman Ken Reid voted for this measure.
Martinez next proposed the full 18.65 percent. Council voted 4-3 in favor of it, but the motion died because budget decisions need a super majority of five.
Reid proposed that council not include the $125,000 committee in the tax rate but instead cover it this year with the one-time revenue of $140,000 from the lease of Olde Izaak Walton Park. Next year, any downtown improvements, including additional funds for the Main Street program, if adopted, would have to be voted into the budget.
Fox forwarded a cut of $40,000 to the downtown Christmas light decorations, which brought the tax rate down to 18.4 percent. This passed 6-1, with Dunn being the only nay vote. The Capital Improvements Project passed unanimously.
Planning commissioner and long-time Leesburg activist Doris Kidder, who has tried to get the Main Street program past council for years, said, “I am getting really old. I’m hoping that this time will be the magic number.”
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